The other day I had the slightly queasy experience of finding a book in my store written by someone I knew once, long ago. (No, not an ex!) It made me kind of sad, not because there was anything much wrong with the book, but because I knew lots of good writers then, really wonderful writers with lots of potential, all of them better than this guy. But those other wonderful writers moved on, or quit, or worked hard for a while and then gave up. But this writer didn't. He clung to his pretty mediocre stories for a long, long time, and finally had them published by a more-than-respectable publisher. Good for him!
But I wonder about the writers I know who have quit, and what they didn't have that the Published Guy did. Well, persistence obviously, but why?
Perhaps I'm a little too fond of making generalizations, but whatever: All the quitters I've known have been plagued by crises of confidence, even while doing excellent and worthwhile work, while the Published Guys (mostly, but certainly not all, guys) seem totally immune to negative feedback. (For the record, I consider myself to have a foot in each camp -- never quitting, exactly, but definitely flailing for long periods.)
It seems so unfair. I can think of three different writers, all women incidentally, whose work I admired but whose self-doubts ballooned in the face of some fairly minor criticism. They eventually quit writing fiction altogether. The Published Guy, I remember, used to argue vehemently in defense of his work, to the point where everyone else just shut up.
I think a lot -- a lot -- about the writers who've given up, and about the books that never got written. Being hard on yourself and self-critical seems like a good quality, but it might actually be a kind of poison, one lethal in high doses.